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My 11-year-old son watched a documentary on the Swiss Army Knife and is enamored with getting one for Christmas. We are in the UK regulatory sphere.

He proposes to use the knife on camping expeditions either with family or with the Sea Cadets. Additionally, I am pretty sure that having such a tool bestows status among his peers in the neighbourhood, so there is also a 'non-utilitarian' motive. He is somewhat advanced in terms of maturity and is good-natured and he is generally not exposed to criminal influences, gangs, and the like.

I know there is a knife for first-timers, I cannot see the value in it and contemplate a somewhat more versatile model shown on this page.

I am OK with deferring this until another year if needs be. I wonder if there are regulatory aspects to consider and if so, which.

What age is appropriate for such a gift? Parents with similar experiences may be able to offer valuable insights.

Note: There is a related question regarding kitchen skills here: When should a child begin to learn knife skills for use in the Kitchen? I do not think it's a duplicate because it's more appliance based and a kitchen would not have the same regulatory implications as a pocket knife.

  • Written law is a thing, but the reality is a second. For example, in many countries it is forbidden to have pepper spray. Theoretically. But practically, if a young woman has one, there is no cop on the world wanting to punish her. These laws are invented against the criminals, and not to harass young kids going to adventuring. – Gray Sheep Dec 16 '15 at 8:05

11 Answers 11

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This one may be a challenge - UK laws on knife carrying are not age-related (although there is an age limit on purchasing knives) but they are related to size of knife and to some extent what you are doing with it and where you are carrying it.

Personally I think a Swiss Army Knife is appropriate for outdoorsy kids from an early age - whenever they can safely handle one - so I'm happy mine have had them from 7 or 8. They whittle spears, roofing spars, traps, toy boats etc from them, and when camping they are incredibly useful.

But I would not allow them to take a penknife to school or down the high street. There is no need for one in those situations, and the temptation to show one as a status symbol is very likely to lead to trouble.

In summary, if your child is likely to be able to handle a knife, I see nothing wrong in letting them have one in the right environment - ie camping or going on a hike where they may need it. Give them some training on use, and some first aid training - it's almost a rite of passage to accidentally cut yourself with your first knife :-)

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    Mine got their own ones at their 5. birthday each, but both had worked with one before that. Also note that some girls like knives, too! – Stephie Dec 9 '15 at 11:16
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    Absolutely agree - my eldest two are a boy and a girl, and they will do everything the other does. They don't quite have matching penknives, but almost. – Rory Alsop Dec 9 '15 at 12:52
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    +1 on the right environment. Don't allow your kid to carry the knife to school. Schools are allergic for knives, even if your kid is very responsible. – Mast Dec 9 '15 at 12:54
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    Can't fault this answer at all - I was treated my first Swiss Army Knife for Scouts at about 10 or 11. I was allowed it at home and on camping trips, but nowhere else. I obviously can't speak for the entire country, but I never saw any misbehaving with knives and I certainly never misbehaved with mine. And, yes, I cut myself while trying to 'whittle' on a camping trip. – Dan Dec 9 '15 at 19:07
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    I am in the US... When I was in 8th grade, I was suspended just for having a Swiss Army knife on my keychain. I didn't use it, I didn't show it off. A teacher noticed it on my keychain, and I was suspended for having a "weapon" on school grounds. – Lindsey D Dec 12 '15 at 1:19
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I am a scout leader from Germany. We allow children to carry pocket knives as young as 8, but only under these conditions:

  • Children with "behavior problems" are exempt (at the discretion of their leader).
  • If they want to have one, they are first taught the rules of using knives (it's a tool and not a weapon, never cut towards your own body, never cut towards someone else's body, never put it where someone might sit down when it's open etc.).
  • They are only allowed to use it when a leader is present.
  • One violation of the rules and we take it away.

Nevertheless, we do experience children (and adults cough) cutting themselves with their knives from time to time, but rarely something a band-aid won't fix. Expect that your son will cut himself sooner or later. This is a normal part of learning how to handle a knife responsible (he is vaccinated against tetanus, I hope). If you cannot deal with that, don't give him one.

If parents want to give knives to their children but are unsure if the child can handle it responsibly, I usually advise parents to follow this course of action:

  1. Talk with the child about the rules.
  2. At first, keep the knife and have them ask if they want to use it and have them give it back when finished.
  3. When the child has proven that they can handle the knife responsibly, let them keep it permanently.

By the way: Some companies offer special "children knives" which don't have a tip and/or are intentionally dulled. In my opinion these knives are far more dangerous than a "real" knife because they are harder to control and teach bad security practices. I do not recommend buying these.

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    +1 for warning against dull kives (+5 if I could). They are basically an accident waiting to happen. For very young or very clumsy children a blunt tip may be a good idea, but I might be biased - mine regularly handeled knives when they were three (forest kindergarten). – Stephie Dec 9 '15 at 16:47
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    Also notice duller knives are actually more dangerous, because when they do cut you the cut is ragged, heals slowly, gets infected more easily, and is more likely to leave a scar. – Max von Hippel Dec 9 '15 at 18:18
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    +1 on the dull knives. It's harder to use them, so the user will push harder, making a slip more likely, and the resulting cut deeper. It also won't heal as well: a sharp knife leaves a clean, straight cut that will heal quickly and often without a visible scar. – Mark Dec 10 '15 at 4:57
  • Agreed on the dull knives - much harder to handle which only increases the dangers. And absolutely true about the scars - the only scar I ever got was while cutting old bread with a serrated bread knife of all things (and goodness I was about 25 at the time, carelessness has no age restrictions) – Voo Dec 10 '15 at 18:32
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    Excellent post and +1 to you sir. i would like to offer some input on the rules though. Knives are tools as are weapons. Neither is a toy and all tools have their place and time. Discussing when a weapon is appropriate and when it is not seems, to me, more accurate. Having said that, most "Swiss" style knives would make poor weapons on their own. In my opinion, if a child is too young to understand when a weapon of any type is the required tool for the situation, they shouldn't be carrying/using/handling knives. – Steve Mangiameli Dec 10 '15 at 20:21
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Eleven is an OK age for handling a nice compact Swiss Army knife. That said, he (or she) would need to be taught and shown how to use and handle it, in just the same was as you might show him(her) how to hammer a nail (Hammers are very dangerous - just check how many gruesome TV murders use one ;-).

It's important that you are happy to provide the help and guidance because they can be mis-used, and part of that guidance is seeing good safe careful usage, including when to put it back in its safe place!

It's also worth customising the knife by adding a short Lanyard, which helps indicate that it's a cared for item, and can be located more easily - mine is 24cm yellow line (3mm dia) with a stopper knot (9 turns on mine).

The important handling aspects I showed my kids are:

  • how to close the blade safely without cutting off their own fingers (new knife baldes are very sharp)
  • how to 'whittle' using the thumb pressure for control - if there is no contact between the knife hand and the held object hand then the knife 'flys' at the end of the cut which could unfortunately stab onself/others
  • never let others play with it - it's not a toy, it's never a toy.
  • Don't take it to school / social events / anywhere there could be misunderstandings!
  • I like what you said about "compact." I had wanted to mention: some Swiss Army knives are on the smaller side; it might be good to gift a knife with a smaller blade as a "starter knife," and then observe how the child handles it before upgrading a few years down the road. – J.R. Dec 13 '15 at 12:10
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I am from Anchorage, Alaska, so I will not attempt to comment on UK law or social norms. However, I grew up with knives and think I can comment on that aspect from another perspective. Alaska is an idiosyncratic locale, and we are generally raised in a more experiential (i.e., learn not to cut yourself by accidentally cutting yourself) way. I was given my first pocket knife at 6 or 7, and I cut my hands on accident many times as a child. I never needed stitches, and now, as an adult, I am very safe with knives, axes, and other such tools. However, I fully recognize that this style of parenting is a) not acceptable in some societies, b) maybe not even legal in some societies, and c) uncomfortable for parents who did not grow up similarly. I think the other answers will respond to all of those aspects of the question better than I can.

The knife in particular is the bigger issue for me. There are many misconceptions about knives. First of all, you should know that a sharper knife is safer than a duller one, because cuts from dull knives infect easier, heal slower, and are more likely to leave scars. Also, duller knives are more likely to be rusted (both dullness and rust come with age), which adds another dimension to the danger. Hence, cheap, dull knives are often less safe. Next, there is the issue of the locking blade. Most if not all Swiss Army Knife blades do not lock open, meaning if you are cutting something and the blade hits something hard it could swing back and cut your hand. This happened to my father as a child and he still bears a rather large scar on his hand. For this reason, I would not recommend giving a Swiss Army Knife as a first knife to a child. I would recommend finding a similar model from a competing company (there are many, such as Gerber or Buck- check REI for more companies and models) with a sharp, locking blade.

My first knife was a Multi-Tool. Multi-Tool style knives generally come in the shape of pliers, which lock closed and come with handles containing a variety of small tools, including a knife. These tend to have locking blades, as well as a variety of genuinely useful tools, such as screwdrivers, and a nail file. I would recommend looking into a Multi-Tool knife as a safer alternative to the more traditional Swiss Army models.

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    Victorinox (Swiss Army) knives do come in locking blade models. – Acire Dec 9 '15 at 18:34
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    Be aware: knives with locking blades are often illegal in the UK, IIRC. – ArtOfCode Dec 10 '15 at 10:17
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    That's insane ArtOfCode, that's like allowing guns but making guns with safety switches illegal – Max von Hippel Dec 10 '15 at 16:54
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    The actual situation in the UK is that locking-blade knives have the same legality as fixed-blade knives. It's very misleading to state that they are "always illegal" in the UK. They aren't even always illegal to carry in public. They are, however, illegal to carry around for no particular reason, and so yes it's true that if you want to routinely carry a folding blade in the UK, then the law forces you to take on the risk associated with rendering it less effective as a weapon by not locking the blade. – Steve Jessop Dec 13 '15 at 18:10
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    On the other hand, if you're going out specifically in order to whittle wood, then you should be OK with whatever fixed or locking blade you like in the UK (as long as it's not on the completely-banned list, of course). What you shouldn't do, is stop off in the pub on the way home with that same knife in your pocket, because then you're in danger of being done for going armed. The same could apply to someone who goes to the pub with a screwdriver in their pocket, it's not just knives that are controlled in this way. – Steve Jessop Dec 13 '15 at 18:22
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You should talk to your Sea Cadet leader. Scouting and cadet organisations are used to dealing with both the laws and the practical safety aspects of children with knives. If I recall correctly from when my son was in Scouts, its basically illegal for him to carry it unless he is going to an event where the organisers have declared that knives are intended to be used, such as a weekend camp or the "how to whittle a tent peg" evening.

  • +1, since for scouting in particular the rules and norms vary from troup to troupe. I was two different troups as a child, in one knives were a big no-no. In the other knives were basically part of the uniform. – Lyndon White Dec 11 '15 at 6:07
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The following link from .gov.uk clearly describes the UK legislation. https://www.gov.uk/buying-carrying-knives

In essence carrying a knife with a folding blade of length less than 3 inches is legal. Threatening someone with a knife of any size is, of course, illegal.

Even though a small knife is legal, if your lad is stopped by the Police or by a teacher they might ask for a good reason why he is carrying it. I would suggest that 'because it is cool' or 'to defend myself' would likely see the knife confiscated.

In my opinion a key-chain knife is appropriate for an 11-year-old, if he has a good reason for wanting it. If it is attached to his keys then it will appear less threatening. For what is is worth, I feel a bit under-dressed without my Leatherman Micra.

If he is out in a boat then a small multi-tool or sailing knife with a shackle key could be useful, but I suspect that an 11-year-old might well loose it - and decent ones are not cheap.

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    In the UK, however, over and above that specific legislation, there is a country-wide initiative to remove knives from the street has seen people get police records for carrying 'legal' knives on the street. "Intent" is an important issue here. – Rory Alsop Dec 9 '15 at 12:54
  • @RoryAlsop do you have a cite for that please? (Specifically, people carrying legal knives getting a criminal record. By definition a knife carried with the intent to harm is not legal.) – user19912 Dec 9 '15 at 14:29
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    @RoryAlsop That article is about a fixed blade and it talks about those being illegal unless you have good reason (IE Chef taking kitchen knives to work). Your claim was legal knives. Do you have any cites for legal knives please? I'm not able to find any, and I'm not sure what words to use to search. (Although I agree that children must not take knives to school or just out and about.) – user19912 Dec 9 '15 at 21:13
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    No - you have misunderstood the article. This one met size regs and was not a fixed blade, but a locking blade. – Rory Alsop Dec 9 '15 at 21:46
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    @RoryAlsop: you can't really divide knives into "legal" and "illegal" that way. A locking-blade knife of the kind they're talking about has the same restrictions as fixed-blade: legal if you're carrying it for a particular purpose (including a profession where you need your knife some days but not others), but illegal to carry it around routinely on the off-chance you might want to use it to cut fruit some day. That prosecution seems extremely pointless to me, but calling it a "legal knife" ignores that it's not legal to bring it around with you all the time no matter whether you need it. – Steve Jessop Dec 10 '15 at 2:51
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We've gifted pocket knives to our kids as young as 7 years old. It's about the time they start scouting and other outdoor youth programs, where they would have a good environment and reason to use one. Proper training occurs over time - a one time teaching session isn't enough. Once you give them one it's best to create activities and opportunities to use it appropriately, once or twice a week, for a month or two, reiterating the rules each time, and demonstrating proper technique each time. Need to cut a rope? Don't take the easy way out and do it yourself, ask your youth to get their knife, then instruct them through the process. Starting a fire? Don't grab the cardboard and newspaper, have your youth grab their knife and teach them how to whittle kindling. The more ordinary and tool-like they view the knife, the more comfortable they'll be with it, and the less likely they'll get it out for things they shouldn't have it out for.

We do, however, expect them to leave the knives at home unless they are going to an activity where one is needed. While I carried a knife to school without issue decades ago, as I worked on a horse farm and simply always had one on me, today schools typically don't permit any knives. Further, the temptation to use or show off the knife is strong in youth, so restricting them to carrying it only when needed helps prevent infractions and negative interactions with others.

We also don't teach knife use for self defense. A knife is a tool for interacting with non-living materials - not against animals, trees, humans, etc. If, at some point in the future, they take a self defense course that includes weapons training that's fine, but without proper training a knife is more often a liability in a fight than an asset, so we simply teach them it's not appropriate for that use.

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I am in US, and my son age 10 has a tiny swiss-army type of knife because he loves gadgets.

My biggest fear is that he would get into some silly argument with his buddies(my knife is better than your knife - look at it!), show them his knife, and will be accused of aggression. In US the consequences can be horrendous. So he is only allowed to use it at home and outdoors with adults around.

So, in my view, it is not the child's ability to handle a knife that limits his/her ability to carry one, but their tendency to boast, and misinterpretation of this boasting as aggression with weapon.

  • Note that in the US these laws vary greatly state by state. Moreover, even in states where kids will not be punished as easily, school districts can impose their own, much harsher rules. Some school districts even punish students for alleged bullying outside of the classroom. – Max von Hippel Dec 9 '15 at 18:15
  • I think this fear - pushed only a fraction further (one child misrepresents/misunderstands the situation) is a very valid concern. Luckily, all my kids' friends had the same fascination with knives as my kids, so they were all pretty above-board with it all. – anongoodnurse Dec 9 '15 at 19:09
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My kids got theirs when they were 5, but we got the special rounded end models. Once we'd shown them how to open and close them and to use them properly we've never had any problems

As far as the legal aspect goes; I've honestly never considered it.

http://www.knivesandtools.co.uk/en/pt/-victorinox-children-s-folder.htm

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    I do hope the blade on that thing is decently sharpened. A rounded tip may be a safety feature (makes it harder to stab things with it), but a dull blade is dangerous, because it doesn't cut cleanly. – Mark Dec 10 '15 at 5:01
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He needs to understand that it is only appropriate to carry the knife under certain circumstances and that trying to sneak it out without permission will be punished harshly. If he is not mature enough to understand that then I would not get it for him.

I have no idea what the policy of the sea cadets is on knives and would suggest you talk to them before making any descisions. It would be pretty gutting for him to be given the knife but then find he can't carry it even on activities where it would be appropriate to use one.

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A recent company I worked for disallowed carrying a Swiss Army Knife, so I changed things up a bit and carried a Leatherman 831488 Style PS Multi-Tool. This is a multi-tool with some most-requested features, but explicitly be designed to be openly allowed by the US TSA to be taken through airport security.

This may, or may not, be an appropriate solution to your goals, but it might be worth considering.

protected by anongoodnurse Dec 9 '15 at 19:05

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